Anyone who thought that the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) would bow out quietly following the defeat of the Scottish Independence Referendum was hopeful at best and downright naive at worst. For all the rhetoric of honouring the results and working to sooth any divisions following the count the SNP have instead acted like a conquering army returning from a victorious campaign. 'YES Scotland' voters refer to themselves colloquially as 'the 45%', despite 'YES' only gaining 44.7%. They ignore the simple facts of the fall in oil prices, the black hole in Holyrood's finances and even that the majority of Scots voted to keep the Union. In the build up to this general election the SNP have consistently polled at over 40%, their membership has shot up to over 100,000 and there seems to be a belief that the "once in a generation" chance to vote for independence could become once in a parliament. Unionists can take a modicum of comfort from the strains caused by this hubris. In the past two weeks the First Minister of Scotland, and leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon has been forced to remind the media time and again that she is party leader and not her predecessor Alex Salmond.
To quote Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister in 'Game of Thrones': "Any man who must say 'I am the King!' is no true King." the same goes for political leaders. Yet, as with UKIP, the SNP seems to be made of Teflon. As Salmond and Sturgeon contradict one another wildly on post election strategy the polls remain stubborn, predicting a landslide for the SNP with upwards of 40 seats.
For all their social democratic and progressive ideas the SNP are wolves in sheeps' clothing. They have but one aim, one ambition; the break-up of the United Kingdom. So it is that despite a convincing victory in September, the Union could still be in danger. Unless the main Westminster parties can start to lure voters back to the fold then the people that want to break up the nation could gain a tremendous advantage to their cause. As it is across Scotland there are unionist groups arising, building a unionist campaign with a sole intention: Keep the SNP out.
This is an idea that all Unionists should start get behind. What is more important? The Union, or whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband sits in Downing Street? Whilst Conservatives may find SNP victories a pill worth swallowing if it keeps Labour from forming a government they would be foolish not to notice the longer term cost such an event could have. If the SNP win their currently predicted landslide that would be viewed, in their eyes, as legitimisation of their pro-independence agenda.
Make no mistake, at this general election, the British Union is in peril. At the referendum it was Gordon Brown that won key victories, on May the 7th it could fall to the Scottish Conservatives to hold the line. It is easy to dismiss Scotland's Tories as a spent force, the last remnants of a dying breed. To do so would be to make the same mistake as Nicola Sturgeon. In the 2010 general election 16.70% of Scottish voters chose the Conservative Party, the SNP gained 19%, in Holyrood the Conservatives have more MSP's than the Liberal Democrats and they have 116 councillors in various local authorities. The balance of Scotland's Parliamentary representation is resting in their hands.
Here's how, the political website 'electoralcalculus.co.uk' currently (8th April) predicts for Scotland:
11 Labour MPs and 48 SNP MPs.
Assuming, however, that a campaign of Unionist Tactical Voting takes off, Conservatives could deliver 15 seats to Labour or the Liberal Democrats. There are even three seats where, if predicted UKIP voters switched their vote to the Conservatives, the political makeup of Scotland could be changed dramatically. Tactical Voting, admittedly on a large scale, can remove more than 20 seats from the hands of the Nationalists:
Liberal Democrats: 1
Obviously these figures are based on polling results that will shift with each passing day and in some cases require more than 10% of the electorate to change party allegiance.
The SNP would be arrogant to think that gaining a vast chunk of Scotland's representation in Westminster would give them another mandate for a referendum. They were given a free and fair vote which they lost. Recent data shows that 'the vow', promising more powers for Scotland and signed by Cameron, Miliband and Clegg persuaded only 3.2% of 'NO' voters, a stark contrast to the claims of the Nationalists that more than 10% jumped ship because of it.
The political landscape of Scotland has changed over the course of this parliament, it is easy to forget that it is still changing. Alex Salmond is a shrewd politician, he was successful in courting the centre-ground of Scottish politics. He can take the credit for making the SNP a potential party of government. The so-called 'tartan Tories' of the SNP who ditched the Conservatives for the only party who could combat Labour are unlikely to hang around for long whilst Nicola Sturgeon continues embarking on a leftward drive that reminds one of Labour under Michael Foot. Under Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour finally has a realist who recognises UK politics is firmly in the centre-ground, Labour and the SNP are beginning to swap their positions on the Scottish political scale. Ruth Davidson is charismatic and sensible, a notable contrast in many ways to high-ranking Conservative politicians south of the border. Even UKIP, a party that was often thought of as an English phenomenon has carved out a niche for themselves, gaining 10% of the vote in 2014's European Parliamentary Election, doubling their vote from 2009 and taking a seat from the Liberal Democrats.
Scotland is not yet the domain of Nicola Sturgeon, resting on her laurels will cause her crown to slip. Whilst the numbers are showing potential victory for the SNP, they also show how strong the anti-independence vote can be. Tactical voting, with current polls, can wipe the grin from those who would break up our country. This battle is not yet over and the Union is not yet dead.